Who’s to Blame for Fast Food? A Twitter Discussion

Are fast food restaurants responsible for obesity?

I was posting an old blog post on Twitter about Denny's and their new mozzarella stick, grilled cheese sandwich.  There has been a trend lately for "shock and awe" dishes that bring the uber-hungry to the restaurants and garner lots of press and chidings from bloggers.  Denny's had entered the fray with this particular sandwich. I do the This is Why You're Fat posts to help people learn about the food they're eating and to help them realize that it can be a very tricky thing to figure out how many calories you're consuming in a restaurant meal.  These posts elicit the usual responses of "Eww gross," and "Ick, how could anyone eat that?"  I have to admit fried mozzarella sticks embedded in a grilled cheese sandwich sounds pretty gross to me and I'll definitely pass.  I got one response on Twitter, though, that caught my attention:
  • from @huynhmi1, "Hi, we also serve healthier options.  For example, we recently started selling Amy's veggie burgers, they can be ordered vegan."   (BTW, @huynhmi1 works for Denny's corporate offices)
Denny's does vegan?  Who knew?  So I put that out on Twitter and a few people said they might give Denny's a try the next time they were faced with fast food options and trying to eat healthy. So then I asked Twitter:
"Is it fair to throw fast food joints under the bus for crazy dishes with tons of calories or are they just giving us what we want?"
I got quite a few responses to that question!
  • from @joleenruffin, "With nutritional charts available in many restaurants now, we are completely responsible for the food choices we make"
  • from @kenbrand, "IMO, we're responsible 4 our own decisions, what we buy, eat, etc.  The marketing to immature decisions makers (kids) is uncool."
  • from @lwcavallucci, "I think it's a combination.  People want it, but it's also that they have become used to the fatty, caloric fast food."
So it seems to be leaning towards personal choice at this point; people are responsible, ultimately, for what they put in their mouths.  But then I tweeted out:
"Most people are saying it's personal responsibility.  That's interesting.  What if you knew they hire scientists to make it more 'addictive'?"
There is a whole division of food sciences that works on things like layering flavors of salt/sweet/fat to make the food more appealing.  There is even a science to the "chew," the amount of times it takes to chew the food before swallowing.  The less times you need to "chew," the more attractive it is.  It also means you can eat faster and therefore more.  There is another subset of the food industry that works on fragrances.  The smell of a McDonald's hamburger, for instance, is completely manufactured.  Without a few drops of a proprietary liquid, you'd think the stuff was cardboard.
  • A good point from @pilateyourbody, "But they aren't trying to make steamed broccoli more additive.  It's processed foods that, if honest w/ yourself, you know there's better."
  • from @Appetite4Profit, "it would be easier for people to resist temptation and 'not go in' to fast food places if they weren't on every corner."  [very true - Lisa]
So where do you come down on this argument?  Do you think there should be nutrition and calorie information on menus?  Do you think fast food chains market to kids?  Do you think that's okay?   Do you exercise self-control in fast food restaurants or do you just enjoy a hamburger and fries whenever you feel like it? Let's start a healthy discussion here and see if we can find some solutions. Thanks, Lisa

About Lisa Johnson

Lisa Johnson here. I've been a personal trainer since 1997, a Pilates instructor since 1998 and the owner of Modern Pilates since 1999. I'm hoping to give you some good ideas to get or stay in shape with a healthy dose of humor and reality. Thanks for joining me.

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16 Responses to Who’s to Blame for Fast Food? A Twitter Discussion

  1. Tara Burner September 17, 2010 at 8:27 am #

    Wow I missed the twitter discussion somehow, but it’s about personal responsibility…which in the states we lack! :(
    Reality is this, nobody physically takes you by the hand and forces you into a restaurant (fast food or otherwise since we know how insane the caloric/fat intake is at cheesecake factory, Olive Garden as well as the whole White Castle shake, Mc D’s, etc.) and forces you to order something and then proceeds to shove it down your throat. Now, granted they do make foods ‘addictive’ but one has to taste them first in order to start the ‘addictive’ process–stay away from them to begin with and you have nothing to be ‘addicted’ to.

    People need to be responsible for their choices and EDUCATE themselves on what’s good, what’s not, etc.
    If someone doesn’t “know”, well I’m sorry you can’t use ignorance as a law suit later on (like people suing Mc D’s because they have health issues)…it’s ‘common sense’ or so one would think–that if you eat fast food, restaurant food all the time, there’s going to be some detrimental effect.

    In regard to the calorie/nutrition information, it’s a 50/50 thing…while it should be available…how many people are going to actually read it and let it affect their decision?

    As far as marketing to kids…. while some do market to lets say the 10 and under age group–WHO is buying that food for the kids??! The PARENTS! A parent CAN say “no”! They don’t “have” to go and get that “happy meal” or whatever… (same concept as few Christmases ago when parents were trying to sue the tv stations or whatever for playing toy commercials— personal responsibility!!! You CAN say no! But, everyone wants to put the blame somewhere else other than on themselves.

    While I don’t agree with the mass food industry, marketing, etc… it ultimately comes down to personal education and responsibility…making the choices that are best for one and quit blaming…

    wow sorry for the long ‘rant’
    getting off my soap box and goin back to work now!

  2. Lisa Johnson September 17, 2010 at 8:39 am #


    You are definitely on one side of the argument. The other side is the very clever and well-funded ways that the food industry in general gets us to eat this stuff. We had grocery end caps stocked with junk food, advertisements everywhere we look, fast food joints on almost every corner, etc. The Cheesecake Factory has made an artform out of cramming calories into their meals. How on earth could you guess that a plate of pasta from them could be over 2,000 calories?

    We’ve even had the gradual increase in plate sizes over the year. There’s even a bit of “sabotage” if you will, in our own homes. My son couldn’t say McDonalds but he could hum the song when we passed by the Golden Arches at 18 months! I was furious …

    I’m not actually coming down on the opposite side of the argument here. I really, truly, see both sides. There is one thing I know for sure, if we act as a group to ask for healthier fare they’ll give it to us. Denny’s is actually a perfect example. They’re giving us vegan hamburgers with the mozzarella stick cheese sandwich. That is actually progress …


  3. Tara Burner September 17, 2010 at 8:54 am #

    see that’s just it…it’s a double sided sword here…because YES to the Cheesecake factory (and others) with their mad scientists constructing layer upon layer of fatty calorie laden dishes…look at their kids menu that has some insane amount of fat/calorie content meals! it’s crazy…

    and YES to the increase in plate sizes (which is something done mostly in the states from what I’ve researched on with other countries)

    But, I still think it should be common knowledge (but yet not acceptable that it ‘should be’ if that makes sense) that if we’re eating ‘out’ that the food industry, restaurants, etc are going to find ‘a way’ to make it ‘addictive’ so people “have” to have whatever they offer…. but if we focus on preparing our own foods at home it’s healthier, not to mention cheaper and you spend quality time with your family. So while we can blame the mad scientists we should stop to ponder this… why do we need mad scientists messing with our food….when if we eat clean, fresh, natural, organic and what we make ourselves we’d be better off.

    and yes Denny’s has a veggie burger now, looked at menu it’s like $7.49 or something… a person could buy a box of 4 morning star veggie burgers (or other brand as well) for like $3 and get four times as much.

    I’m kinda biased on the whole subject since I prepare all meals at home and my DD might have one meal a month at my house that wasn’t prepared by me.

  4. Minh Huynh September 17, 2010 at 8:59 am #

    “Do you think there should be nutrition and calorie information on menus?”

    Legislation is going to be passed that requires restaurants to print calorie counts right next to the plate name, in the same size font. I think it’s already in efffect in California and is rolling out nationally in 2011.

    “Do you think fast food chains market to kids? Do you think that’s okay?”

    Most (if not all) fast food chains market to kids, and I think that’s okay within reasonable limits. I feel it’s mostly the parents’ responsibility to control what their kids eat.

    “Do you exercise self-control in fast food restaurants or do you just enjoy a hamburger and fries whenever you feel like it?”

    I exercise self-control but once in a blue moon, I like going to McDonald’s and getting a double quarter pounder with fries. The difference is, I am fully aware of how unhealthy it is and will try to run 240 miles the next day. You’d be surprised how many people in the food industry I’ve met that didn’t know how much cholesterol was in one egg.

    In this day and age, it’s primarily the consumer’s responsibilty for their health. There’s an abundance of free online information out there to make informed decisions.

    Minh Huynh
    Product Marketing Manager
    Denny’s Corporation

  5. Lisa Johnson September 17, 2010 at 9:49 am #

    Thanks for adding to the discussion Minh. Great to see you here …


  6. TC September 17, 2010 at 10:44 am #

    Do I think there should be nutrition and calorie information on menus?


    Do I think it will make any substantial difference?


    Access to information doesn’t change attitudes and behaviors. Look, I’m 40. When I was in grade school they had people come in and talk to us about nutrition and healthy choices and even then I remember them showing off things like an unwrapped Twinkie that hadn’t degraded in a half-dozen years. Easy-to-read nutrition information has been on products in supermarkets for at least that long. Talk shows and blogs and magazines have repeated over and over again the benefits of eating better and avoiding processed foods. Meanwhile 25+ years have passed, the benefits are fairly common knowledge, yet we’re still talking about this. People, for the most part, eat what they want to eat because it tastes good to them regardless of whether it is good for them, and even if they know it is bad for them. I don’t think restaurant chains can be blamed, because except in rare cases people aren’t forced by necessity to eat there.

  7. Lisa Johnson September 17, 2010 at 11:01 am #

    TC all good points, what’s the point in putting the information out there if no one’s bothering to pay attention to it. Thoughts?


  8. Jess September 17, 2010 at 11:31 am #

    Great post! In my opinion, fast food is just that: fast food. They can put crack in it for all I care. The point is, people have their own minds and can make choices. The fast food chains know that they are just a fast food stop, not a regularity and of course would try anything they could to make their food more ‘addictive’.

    Chocolate and soda are not manufactured with ‘addictives’ yet remain high on people’s craving lists. The point is to eat things in moderation and not to make them staples of your diet. We cannot blame outside sources for our own actions.

  9. Bridget September 17, 2010 at 1:03 pm #

    I agree with TC.

    I think the nutritional info should be readily available, (along with ingredients…proprietary liquids? eww, Lisa,) as a menu insert or brochure on a fast food counter.

    Then the consumer can decide. Its our choice, after all.

    For instance, when I am on good behavior, I def want to know the details of what I am eating.

    Do I think it should be posted right next to each item on a menu? No! Here’s why….

    If I am going to go to Mother Annas on my birthday to get Fettucine Alfred – I already KNOW the damage I am doing. And I am pretty sure the cannoli they serve isn’t low-cal, (although it is probably not overyly processed).

    I did not know that Twinkies are like cockroaches….yuck!! :)

  10. Joleen Ruffin September 17, 2010 at 1:14 pm #

    I love what Jess said ‘ “They can put crack in it for all I care.” Haha, totally agree. I really don’t care about what they put in the food to entice you to eat it. We have to be informed as consumers. You KNOW that when you go to McDonalds and order a big mac, fries, a drink and SUPER-SIZE it that its a bad decision for your health. I haven’t completely given up McDonalds, but when I do go I get a kid-sized burger, hold the fries and a water. Same for my kids. If they want a hamburger, they don’t get fries.

    People just need to take responsibility for their own behavior. This is a capitalist society that we live in. Companies are in it to make money. If they can capitalize on your bad decisions, then they can and will.

  11. Rolf September 17, 2010 at 1:15 pm #

    Hi Lisa, some would let the fast food industry off the hook with statements like “people make their own choices” But in many ways those choices have been made for them. Ad campaigns directed at children, i.e. Happy Meals complete with toys. Untold millions spent on food engineering to make the food as addictive as possible. And a culture that gives the average worker only enough time at lunch to hit the drive through window. No: it strikes me that there is a corporate profit motive, first to sell poison and second to sell drugs to treat the results of the poisoning. These are billion dollar industries which would go away if people adopted a healthy lifestyle. I might also point out that these industries can easily buy a congressmen when they want one. It is incumbent on the individual to take full responsibility for their own health.

    I see your favorite media fitness **** is now a go daddy girl! gag!


  12. Joleen Ruffin September 17, 2010 at 1:20 pm #

    One other comment. Everyone should review the nutritional charts at restaurants and fast food places. I can’t tell you how many times I am totally and completely surprised at the number of calories and the amount of fat there is in completely inane food choices.

    I went to Applebees the other night and thought, I’ll be good and order a salad…ok, shrimp salad on lettuce…that should be lo cal, right. Wrong! After everything was added, the salad amounted to OVER 1,000 calories! So I still ordered it — hold the hard boiled eggs, hold the olives, dressing and avocado on the side. Ate a small piece of the avocado (a good fat) and had about 1/8 of the dressing.

    Not only do we have to be good decision makers, we have to be savvy eaters. Don’t sleep through nutrition class.

  13. Lisa Johnson September 17, 2010 at 3:13 pm #

    Joleen and Rolf thanks so much for your comments. This is such a great discussion and I love getting all the ideas out into the open! Thanks! Lisa

  14. Jack Bennett September 17, 2010 at 6:19 pm #

    Has anyone *not* received the memo that fast food is pretty lousy for you?

    People eat it for a few main reasons:
    – it’s convenient
    – it tastes good, once you’re habituated to it (hits all the pleasure points of sweet, fatty, salty…)
    – it’s cheap
    – it gets the job done – it’s filling and beats hunger

    It’s not easy to avoid. I’ve eaten a vegan diet for a couple of years and still get cravings for the nastiest fast food – e.g. McDonalds Filet O’Fish, or KFC snack wraps. I don’t eat them because of my self-imposed constraint, but as a child and teenager I loved them and my silly brain still remembers…

  15. Health Votes September 25, 2010 at 2:56 pm #

    @Tara Burner, you talk about personal responsibilities, but there are other personal responsibilities like using seat belts, not taking drugs, committing suicide etc. but there is also a rule/law for it. If the food does us harm, the law should stop us from eating it, no matter how cheap/convenient/tasty or otherwise it is.

    You talk about eating it for the first time, but if something is there to be eaten, people will eat it. Normal people does not know much, and am sure most does not know about the addiction part anyway. They think they can control themselves, they eat thinking it is only once, not knowing that they will not be able to resist it. It should be written in the menu that the food targets your taste bud and you won’t be able to resist the taste unless you are taken to some vegetarian rehabilitation center.

    marketing to kids, there is a lot to that, than meets the eye. you have to be over 18+ to vote or get a car license etc. but at 15+ most of the kids (i call them kids because they are not allowed to vote because they are too small) can go to a fast food joint and eat what they like… Also, about the smaller kids, they see the ads, they want to eat that, and as a parent when you try to stop them, you actually become a villain in their eyes. Am sure if a Tv ad asks your kids to become a suicide bomber, it will be up to the parents to stop their kids to become terrorists, but will the government allow such ads? so why allow ads that targets the kids health?

    Stronger rules has to be made against unhealthy food.

    @Lisa Johnson, about having information even if no one values it. I would much rather have the information and ignore it, rather than have no information and feel cheated about the calories and ingredients that i ate un-knowingly

  16. Lisa Johnson September 25, 2010 at 6:53 pm #

    I agree with you Health Votes. I would rather know the calories and use them. I actually would use them every time I go. It is so easy to sneak in calories that you wouldn’t suspect and it does feel a bit like you’ve been “had” when you eat something that you thought was OK and it’s actually terrible. Thanks for stopping by and contributing to the conversation. L–

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